Seminar Series

Implicit and Explicit Alcohol-related Cognitions and their Role in the Etiology of Alcoholism: Basic Mechanisms and Implications for Interventions.

I will present data from a number of recent studies, in which we measured implicit and explicit alcohol-related cognitions. In the first study (Wiers et al., in press, J. Abnormal Psychol) we used the IAT (Greenwald et al., 1998) next to explicit measures using the same words, to assess implicit and explicit alcohol associations in two dimensions, valence and arousal. We found that heavy drinkers differ from light drinkers in their implicit arousal-associations, but not in their implicit valence associations (unexpectedly, both groups showed strong negative implicit associations). The implicit associations were in marked contrast with the findings on explicit measures, where everyone was positive about alcohol and heavy drinkers were more positive than light drinkers. Implicit and explicit cognitions uniquely contributed to 1-month prospective alcohol use. In a second study we randomly assigned a similar group of young heavy drinkers (75% scoring above treshold for alcohol problems in the WHO-Audit screening instrument) to an expectancy challenge condition or to an active control condition. The challenge procedure changed the explicit but not the implicit cognitions (again strong negative and arousal associations), and the change in explicit cognitions mediated a reduction in drinking in men (4 months follow-up). These findings and ongoing related work are discussed in relation to cognitive and biological models for the etiology of addictions.